New album stream by The XX employs data visualization...but what does this mean?

Indie pop band The XX has just released a free audio stream of their new album Coexist. Sure, go ahead and preorder the album or bookmark it on Spotify because Angels and Swept Away are great listens.  But more intriguing to me is the website hosting the stream, which shows how the album has been shared around the world:

According to the site, each curve on the map begins with a tweet, email, or Facebook post and ends with the location of a new listener. The marketing tactic is a great use of how data visualization has been making it's way from the business conference room and into the public mainstream.

On the topic of differentiating your company from the competition, ten years ago Bill Gates said that the best way to "put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose." For literally centuries the role of big data has been for big businesses to find a way to drive their decisions - market research, sales quotas, and growth strategies to name a few. 

But these days you can find an infographic on just about anything, including the latest YouTube viral video (I will not hide the fact that this video has become the latest pregame staple at my apartment). Not to get too meta here, but you can even find an infographic on infographics:


So, why has data visualization become such a big thing? My immediate and obvious answer is that the rise in data visualization is related to the rise in sharing capabilities and communication. 

Executive Chairman and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s favorite statistic is that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of man through 2003 (It comes to no surprise that after 2003 the amount of information created rose sharply just as Facebook was founded in 2004). This equates to five exabytes of data, or “all the words ever spoken by human beings” according to a study from UC Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems. By comparison, the MacBook Pro that I’m using to write this very essay has 120 gigabytes, which is roughly one millionth that of just one exabyte.

But what this statistic fails to capture is the human desire for communication. We don't create data so much as we share data. If we really were creating as much unique information every two days as we did from the beginning of time through 2003 then I would expect to see a lot more lightbulbs, theories of relativity, and other groundbreaking inventions and discoveries.

So my bigger question, which I'd like to explore in another post at some point, is why do we share information?